The young and upcoming Seattle Mariners collected more hardware on Monday. After first baseman Evan White and shortstop J.P. Crawford brought home gold gloves on election night (remember when it used to be just one night?), outfielder Kyle Lewis won the American League Rookie of the Year award as ballots continued to be counted for the presidency.
In the COVID shortened season, Lewis appeared in 58 of 60 games, mostly in centerfield but occasionally in right, while hitting .264/.347/.477 with 11 HR for a 126 wRC+ and 1.7 fWAR. Lewis was the unanimous winner after many had thought Chicago White Sox CF Luis Robert might collect some votes. Robert slumped “late” (if there can be such a thing as late in a 60-game season) and ended the season at .233/.302/.436, also with 11 HR but just a 101 wRC+ for 1.5 fWAR.
The slight difference in fWAR between Lewis and Robert came down to even more suspect advance analytics in a small sample size COVID shortened season – defense. According to FanGraphs, Robert had 8 defensive runs saved compared to Lewis’ -1. In UZR, Robert saved the Sox 2.6 runs compared to -1.7 for Lewis. The public facing advanced defensive metrics tend to require a fairly large sample to begin to be conclusive, so who really knows who will turn out to be the better fielder.
At the plate, Lewis showed a minor lefty / righty split, hitting .224 against lefthanders and .277 against righthanders. Again, very small sample size. He was fairly consistent at home and on the road, hitting .268 in T-Mobile and .257 in opponents’ parks in the uniquely configured west coast only schedule.
In a potentially disturbing trend, Lewis hit .368 in the “first half” of the season and only .150 in the “second half.” Lewis will want to work on his plate discipline going forward as he struck out 29.3% of the time. But of course his K% is in a hitting environment where strike outs have been increasing every year for over a decade now, contact being sacrificed for HR.
The irony of Lewis’ ROY victory in 2020 is that by as early as next year he will likely be considered the third best outfielder in Seattle. Jared Kelenic, who is ranked second in the organization by FanGraphs is scheduled to make his major league debut in 2021. Number one prospect Julio Rodriguez was slated to make the majors in 2022, but with financial uncertainty surrounding the minor leagues even more than the majors, the Mariners may elect to promote him next season.
More often than not in recent years the rookie of the year award has gone to solid everyday players or the occasional sure fire HOFer. Take 2001 for instance, the last season a Mariner won ROY. In that season Ichiro Suzuki won in the AL and Albert Pujols won in the NL. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in 2012 wasn’t too shabby either. But there are still the Angel Berroa types that collect the hardware from time to time.. For fans of the Seattle Mariners, at least Kyle Lewis was a breath of fresh air and a spark of hope in the tumult of 2020.